Relief at dad's safe flight turns to grief over drowning in tugboat accident in China

A relative prays on the river bank during search and rescue operations on an overturned tugboat in the Yangtze River, Jingjiang city, Jiangsu province, China, on Jan 17 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
A relative prays on the river bank during search and rescue operations on an overturned tugboat in the Yangtze River, Jingjiang city, Jiangsu province, China, on Jan 17 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
A search and rescue team carries the body of a victim who died after a tugboat overturned in the Yangtze River, Jingjiang city, Jiangsu province, China, on Jan 17 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
A search and rescue team carries the body of a victim who died after a tugboat overturned in the Yangtze River, Jingjiang city, Jiangsu province, China, on Jan 17 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
People watch a floating crane during recovery operations for a sunken tugboat on the Yangtze River in Jingjiang city, China's Jiangsu province, on Jan 16 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
People watch a floating crane during recovery operations for a sunken tugboat on the Yangtze River in Jingjiang city, China's Jiangsu province, on Jan 16 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
A sunken tug boat is lifted from the Yangtze River by a rescue team near Jingjiang, Jiangsu province, on Jan 16, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A sunken tug boat is lifted from the Yangtze River by a rescue team near Jingjiang, Jiangsu province, on Jan 16, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Search and rescue team operate on an overturned tugboat in the Yangtze River, Jingjiang city, Jiangsu province, China, on Jan 17 2015. Before Mr Baginda Ali Zainul Abiddin flew to China for work, his family was worried about his flight there, gi
Search and rescue team operate on an overturned tugboat in the Yangtze River, Jingjiang city, Jiangsu province, China, on Jan 17 2015. Before Mr Baginda Ali Zainul Abiddin flew to China for work, his family was worried about his flight there, given recent air tragedies. -- PHOTO: EPA

Before Mr Baginda Ali Zainul Abiddin flew to China for work, his family was worried about his flight there, given recent air tragedies.

Their relief after the 54-year-old Jurong Marine assistant manager texted to say he had landed safely in Shanghai last Wednesday was, however, short-lived.

The tugboat he was on sank a day later, leaving 22 people dead, including Mr Baginda and three other Singaporeans.

"When we first heard the news, we still held out hope," said the eldest of Mr Baginda's three children, Mr Syarifuddin Hidayat, 24.

"You see in the movies, sinking ships, maybe he had a life jacket on and survived in the water like you see in shows. We never thought it would be the ship that would be a problem, it is usually flights that are riskier."

His father, who had started out as a sailor 24 years ago, had been due to return to Singapore this weekend to spend time with his family.

"My last words to him were right before he flew off, when I assured him I would be here to pick him up from the airport when he got back, and I would carry his bags, and we would go for a big family meal," recalled Mr Syarifuddin, an investigations officer working with the police.

"But instead, we are now waiting for his body. He was a very good person, gone too soon, and it is very painful to miss him."

Two of his family members flew to China yesterday to identify and claim Mr Baginda's body.

There to do the same were the loved ones of the other three Singaporeans.

The families of Mr Quah Shihong and Mr Chung Wai Kian arrived in Jingjiang city earlier last week, and the family of Mr Lim You Tsern left for Shanghai yesterday.

"Could this incident have been avoided? We are not sure," said Mr Syarifuddin. "We don't want to dwell on the past. I've come to terms that my dad is gone."

hpeishan@sph.com.sg